Valve is amazing and tonight I'm going to show you one of the many reasons why. But before I do it's probably best if I provide a little backstory first.

I've been a PC gamer for a long time now and one of the major benefits to gaming on the PC is the benefit and availability of mods - content usually created by somebody other than the official developer for a particular game.

I've always been fascinated with modding. I've experimented with it on several occasions for many different games and I've mentioned it in a blog or two over the years. The first game I ever tried to blog was Doom II. Doom II used a WAD file to store all the game data, and if you were smart enough and had the right software tools you could manipulate the data in the WAD file and make all sorts of interesting content or modify what was already there. The WAD file must be somewhat iconic - it even has its own Wikipedia entry.

"I still remember the first time I saw the original Star Wars DOOM mod. Seeing how someone had put the death star into our game felt so amazingly cool. I was so proud of what had been made possible, and I was completely sure that making games that could serve as a canvas for other people to work on was a valid direction." -John D. Carmack

I'd like to say it was me...but it wasn't. About the best I could do was modify the rate of fire and ammunition type of the weapons. But I certainly played a lot of mods, some of which were brilliantly crafted. The most sought after capability was also the most challenging - creating your own maps and levels. There were a few very rudimentary level editors, but you really had to know what you were doing if you wanted to actually produce anything - and unfortunately I didn't know what I was doing.

Sometime later, I got into modifying Rainbow Six. Once again, the game didn't really have a level editor, so I was limited on what I could do. I remember one particular map where one team was holed up in a mansion, and the other team had to assault the compound and take them out. Well, I modified it by dropping in a Hum Vee and giving it a path to travel along. My thought was the assaulting team could run behind the Hum Vee and use it for cover... Unfortunately the first time I used it on a server I was running live with real people...things didn't go so well even though I had playtested it myself several times. My team ran behind the Hum Vee just like I had hoped, but for whatever reason when we made it to the house the Hum Vee (or my programming) glitched and the Hum Vee ran over one of my teammates and crashed through the house (I suppose "clip" is a more accurate term). Oh well, back to the drawing board.

So, tonight I'm going to share with you one of the easiest, most comprehensive level editors I have ever seen in 20+ years of gaming. Yes, it's so easy a caveman could do it. I know this, because I was able to use it. In about 2 minutes I created my first level, compiled it and played it. Granted it was truly about as simple of a level as you can get. But still, I only did it to showcase the utility.

Now obviously you know the editor is from Valve, hence the introduction. But which of their games could it be? None other than, Portal 2.

The mod tools didn't ship with the game, but they have been out for a while now. I downloaded it when they came out, but I just never really got around to testing it out...until recently. It is amazing how simple yet how powerful this tool is.

So let's get started. I'll show you my 2 minute map.

First Step - Load the game and select Create Test Chambers.

The default level - the menu on the left contains all the items you can add to the map.

Here is the default map after it is rendered and ready to play.

Here is a sentry I dropped into the level to guard the door.

Let's say I want to manipulate the shape of the room, I can push or pull any of the squares.

In this example, I pulled that section of the wall out.

In this image, you can see my basic map. A sentry behind glass and a ball dropper.

Here it is rendered. The goal - drop the ball on the aerial faith plate and hit the sentry.

To make it more challenging, I'll use portals to land the ball on the aerial faith plate.

Score! A direct hit... Although it did take 3 attempts before I hit the sentry.

This image pretty much captures it all - set your portals up, click the button... the ball falls through the orange portal and exits out the blue portal, hits the aerial faith plate, is launched over the wall hitting the sentry and disabling it so you can jump on the aerial faith plate and get launched over the glass wall. You can see the exit to the right.

Now you see why I opened this blog praising Valve. This map tool is amazing and hundreds of Portal 2 gamers have created exceptional maps to complement those that already come with the game. I look at this and think about other games that could benefit from such a tool.

If you want to see the whole process in motion, here is a YouTube video (not me).

If you're new to modding or you have played Portal 2 and have some great ideas for maps you'd like to see, you should check this tool out and just go ahead and create it. And even if you don't create some masterpiece of a level, you'll still get a cool little badge to make you feel all important.

Saint, employee of Aperture Laboratories? I wish!